Growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF15) is a member of the TGF-β superfamily, and evidence suggests that a substantial amount of GDF15 is secreted in various human cancers, such as ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer, among others. However, the function of GDF15 in cervical cancer has not yet been reported.
Immunohistochemistry was used to detect GDF15 expression in normal cervix and in different cervical cancer lesions. Cell growth curves, MTT, tumor formation assays and flow cytometry were utilized to observe the effects of ectopic GDF15 expression on the proliferation and cell cycle of cervical cancer cells. Real-time PCR, western blotting and immunoprecipitation assays were conducted to measure the expression of genes related to the cell cycle and the PI3K/AKT and MAPK/ERK signaling pathways. A chromatin immunoprecipitation assay was performed to confirm whether C-myc bound to a specific region of the GDF15 promoter. Inhibitor treatment and immunoprecipitation assays were employed to identify the association between GDF15 and ErbB2.
GDF15 expression gradually increased during the progression of cervical carcinogenesis. GDF15 promoted cervical cancer cell proliferation via exogenous rhGDF15 treatment or the use of gene editing technology in vitro and in vivo and significantly accelerated the cell cycle transition from G0/G1 to S phase. The expression of p-ErbB2, p-AKT1, p-Erk1/2, CyclinD1 and CyclinE1 was up-regulated and the expression of p21 was down-regulated in GDF15-overexpressing and rhGDF15-treated cervical cancer cells. C-myc trans-activated GDF15 expression by binding to the E-box motifs in the promoter of GDF15 and contributed to the positive feedback of GDF15/C-myc/GDF15. Furthermore, GDF15 bound to ErbB2 in a protein complex in cervical cancer cells.
Our data demonstrated that GDF15 promoted the proliferation of cervical cancer cells via the up-regulation of CyclinD1 and CyclinE1 and the down-regulation of p21 through both the PI3K/AKT and MAPK/ERK signaling pathways in a complex with ErbB2.